VICTORIA – Victoria bird watchers flock to Panama Flats after a pair of sandhill cranes flown in for a layover.
The pair of rare cranes was spotted eating in the tall grass of the Saanich wetland. Local bird experts say it is not uncommon for sandhill cranes to migrate across south Vancouver Island, but it is uncommon for them to land in the region.
“These guys are running late and we’re pretty surprised that Sandhills is still moving around,” said Ann Nightingale of the Rock Point Bird Observatory. “People may remember last fall, Sandhill cranes were the big talk in town because a couple dozen of them were in Metchosin, held up because of the fires (in the interior of BC) and here we are lucky again, Sandhill- To have cranes here in Saanich. “
Nightingale says sandhill cranes are a species that is widespread in northern BC, the Okanagan, and areas as far east as Saskatchewan. She says the birds are also more common on North Vancouver Island because of a small breeding colony there.
“We can’t usually see them well here, usually they just fly overhead,” said Nightingale. “It’s a treat for local bird watchers as fall is usually the best time to see sandhill cranes in the area (rather than spring). So if they stay like these two do, the bird watchers have a chance to get them on their ‘Year List’ page. “
The sandhill crane’s annual migration takes it from the Yukon and Northern BC to the southeastern United States. Nightingale says there could be a good reason this couple chose to sleep in Panama Flats on their flight north.
“What often happens is that the non-breeders may not get as far as the hatcheries, so these boys might not breed this year,” said Nightingale. “They’re still moving north, but not in the same rush as some who want to breed.”
Nightingale says it is unclear whether the two cranes are a couple, as sandhill cranes usually migrate in pairs.
“You get birds traveling together, the old thing about security in numbers. They can come from the same flock and be separated from the main group, or they could be siblings, ”said Nightingale. “I don’t think they have gone off course. Because we had such strange weather this spring, we saw a lot of birds in June that are usually not here in June. “
Nightingale says Panama Flats in Saanich has been hopping around with rare birds for the past few weeks. Part of the reason for the sightings, she says, is that the wetland still has water, making it a haven for birds when they roam the area.
“We see a fluctuation in the birds here as they come by,” said Nightingale. “It’s a great feeding place and a great resting place for them.”
The pair of sandhill cranes have been eating in the tall grass of Panama Flats for a few days and are unlikely to stay long. Nightingale expects them to continue their flight north for the next few days.
“They are a bird that cannot be relied on, and these are the first sandhill cranes to stay around long enough that people can actually go where the cranes are to get some good photos of them do, ”said Nightingale.